Ukraine's leader moves to strip oligarchs of power with new bill

FILE PHOTO: Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy looks on during his annual news conference at the Antonov aircraft plant in Kyiv, Ukraine May 20, 2021. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

KYIV (Reuters) -Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy urged lawmakers on Wednesday to pass a law that would strip the oligarchs who have dominated the country for decades of power and political influence.

Ukraine's allies and major donors have repeatedly criticised it for not reining in the handful of wealthy businessmen, many of them owners of TV channels, who shape policy behind the scenes.

The proposed law, which would be in force for 10 years, should be "the first step towards the elimination of the oligarchic system," Zelenskiy's office said.

Under it, persons meeting the definition of oligarch would be registered as such and prohibited from financing political parties and taking part in privatisations, and required to submit an annual declaration of income.

Local media have speculated that 10 or more Ukrainians may meet the definition, including Ihor Kolomoisky, the owner of the 1+1 TV channel that gave then-comedian Zelenskiy a powerful platform during his meteoric rise to the presidency on an anti-corruption ticket in spring 2019.

The current parliament, in which pro-Zelenskiy lawmakers have a majority, was elected in the same year. It was not clear on Thursday when it will debate and vote on the bill, which Zelenskiy's office classed as urgent.

The draft law would also require officials, including the president, prime minister, head of the central bank, lawmakers, senior military officials and other top authorities to submit a declaration after any contact with oligarchs.

"The bill does not violate the fundamental rights of people who fall under the definition of an oligarch, but only defines the circle of these people and establishes the rules of their transparent relations with government officials," Zelenskiy's office said.

The law should become the basis for antitrust and lobbying legislation, it added.

(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; ; editing by John Stonestreet)

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